Are we paying enough attention to Mental Health in our Adolescents?
It is true that aside from the disease itself, the pandemic had a major ripple effect of the quarantine and nationwide lockdowns. Children and adolescents in particular were reported to have developed acute panic, anxiety, obsessive behaviours, paranoia, and depression, which could also lead to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the long run. Helpline numbers for mental health counselling saw a huge surge in calls, with anxiety and adjustment issues topping the list. In these circumstances, we must do what we can for our future generation to cope with the stresses that they face and equip them with the necessary tools to deal with these challenges.
My project titled ‘Ending the Silence Around Mental Health’ was introduced during the pandemic when the greatest impact of school closures was on adolescents.
Although UN SDG 3 tackles ‘Good Health and Well Being’, awareness of mental health is still lacking in large parts of the world. Mental health which has for long been considered a taboo in many societies needs to be prioritised. Adolescence is the stage of frequent mood swings, and emotional turbulence coupled with low self-esteem.
Students are not taught to handle such breakdowns and these topics are often less talked about. Due to social stigma, they find it difficult to seek help and are shy to share.
Believing that students can be harbingers of change, I involved my grade 12 students in a student-led project titled ‘Ending the Silence Around Mental Health‘.
At the outset of my English class, the students brainstormed reasons for causing stress amongst the adolescents during the pandemic and its effects. While outlining the effects of stress, answers related to mental health like anxiety and depression were observed. Thereafter, the students provided different ways to de-stress followed by a discussion on why mental health is still considered a taboo in our society. Sharing the learning with their peers of Hasbaya Public High School, Lebanon, both student groups felt that mental health must be prioritized.
Carrying this further, my students interviewed 30 adolescents in their community to ascertain whether and how COVID-19 was impacting their mental health. Being teenagers themselves, they empathised, identified with what their peers were going through during the pandemic and created a virtual forum, “The Amygdala: Let the Mind Bloom”. Named after the integrative centre for emotional behaviour in our brain, the Amygdala was developed as a platform that can help adolescents achieve psychological resilience through international webinars, resource packages and mindful activities.
It is a community-driven solution that focuses on long-term impact, empowering action at the local, national and international levels and sustainable educational practices that bear significant relevance to UNSDG4 – Quality Education.
Collaborating with my students, I organised five international webinars for students and teachers of different schools in India and 15 foreign countries.
Eminent professionals and mental health specialists from India and abroad were invited to speak during these webinars. The webinars dealt with the themes “Happy D.O.S.E” (to boost the happiness chemicals, Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, Endorphins), “Self-Reflection: It’s Not All In Our Head”, “De-Stress With Us!”, “Finding Your Ikigai” and “Anxious, Aren’t You?” These webinars assisted students and teachers in learning about coping mechanisms and mindful activities to deal with stress.
I organised an Online Global Discussion on ‘Believing in Yourself is the Key to Good Health’ for grade 11 and 12 students on the occasion of UN Day. This discussion bolstered positivity amongst students of these schools and assisted in shattering stereotypes surrounding mental health.
The project which initially aimed at benefiting adolescents had teachers and parents too as its beneficiaries in its holistic approach. In-house sessions related to students’ mental well-being for grades 6 to 10 students were conducted by our school counsellors, city counsellors and health officers from the Health Department of Madhya Pradesh, India from the period August – to October 2020 for students and teachers.
Along similar lines, I also organised a session by a doctor for parents of grades 9 to 12 to apprise them about various mental health issues of adolescents and their need to be vigilant at all times.
Parents were encouraged to listen to their children’s problems, provide emotional support in resolving issues related to anxiety and stress and consult the counsellor if need be.
The project was a step toward ensuring the well-being of adolescents at the local, national and global levels. It is hoped that more young people will be inspired to talk openly about mental health and create a world where everyone enjoys ‘Good Health and Well Being’.